St Albans Green Belt scheme contested by council at fresh appeal hearing

Wildflower field at Sewell Park, St Albans

Wildflower field at Sewell Park, St Albans - Credit: Alyson Northedge

The legal battle over a Green Belt site in St Albans will go back to court after a judge decided the case was of such major importance for the planning system that an appeal should be heard.

St Albans district council (SADC) has been granted permission to contest a judgement relating to a controversial housing scheme for green fields sitting between a sports ground and secondary school.

In August Hunston Properties successfully challenged a planning inspector’s decision to dismiss its application to build Sewell Park, a development of 116 homes, new road access and a 72-bed care home to the rear of 112-156B Harpenden Road.

Sewell Park is proposed for a 12-acre Green Belt site between Woollams playing fields and St Albans Girls’ School.

But SADC recently announced it would seek the Court of Appeal’s permission to appeal against the order quashing the inspector’s decision and that has now been granted.

A spokeswoman for SADC said on Thursday that while Court of Appeal Judge Lord Justice Sullivan has ordered the hearing to be expedited to be heard before Christmas, the council has not yet been notified of the date of the hearing.

However in his order, the judge warned that he had not been persuaded “that this appeal has a real prospect of success”.

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But he added that the case was a matter of major importance for the planning system.

The latest legal development follows a High Court hearing in August, where Judge Mark Pelling quashed a planning inspector’s decision to dismiss Hunston’s appeal.

Hunston had challenged the inspector’s assessment of whether the planning application demonstrated the existence of “very special circumstances” necessary to warrant development in the Green Belt.

The inspector’s conclusion was based on St Albans’ needing to meet a target of 360 homes per annum as stipulated in the recently revoked East of England Plan.

But Hunston successfully argued that by adopting the 360 figure, rather than a “need” figure of 688 new homes a year, the inspector misconstrued and misapplied parts of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which replaced the East of England Plan.

A public inquiry on the Sewell Park scheme due to start on November 19 is now expected to be postponed because of the case before the Court of Appeal.